by Mike McHugh
For too many teachers, including those from the realm of home education, the act of reviewing a student’s work is commonly regarded as an optional step that may be dispensed with if time is lacking. This mindset is as familiar as it is misguided, for the process of reviewing a student’s work remains one of the essential steps in successful teaching. It is often the lack of a thorough review that sets children up for failure, as teachers press students in to new lessons, or even new subjects, before they are adequately prepared by their previous studies. When teachers fail to ensure that their students have a solid grasp of the material that they have previously studied, then they have left their work half done.
The teaching process is most effective when each step or presentation leads easily and naturally to the next. When instructors make the effort to organize their lessons well, they end up relating every lesson, as much as possible, to previous material that has been covered. For this reason, the process of review plays a critical role in helping students to comprehend the interrelationship that exists between their various lessons. Students that are rarely challenged to demonstrate their understanding of individual lesson material, will seldom gain a comprehensive grasp of the subject they are studying. The most effective review process is, therefore, one which is regular and ongoing rather than reserved simply for the end of a course.
The time-consuming and sometimes difficult process of reviewing a student’s work is necessary to ensure that learners take actual possession of the essential facts of the course they are studying. A genuine review process, however, involves more than a mere repetition of facts. It involves exposing students to fresh conceptions or applications of the subject matter at hand, in order that they may gain an increased comprehension of what they are studying. In his classic work, The Seven Laws of Teaching, author John Milton Gregory does a masterful job of summarizing the three primary aims of review:
- To perfect the student’s knowledge of the subject
- To confirm the student’s understanding of essential course facts
- To make this knowledge accessible and useful in its application
This same author goes on to share the following observations concerning the value and practical implementation of review:
- A new lesson or a fresh topic never reveals all of itself at first. When we enter a house for the first time we do not know where to look, for everything is so new that we are often dazzled by the variety of unfamiliar objects that confront us. We must return again and again to reexamine the scene before our eyes become familiar with the place and we can appreciate the plan of the building and the uses of all the rooms and furniture in a clear manner. So one must return again and again to a lesson if he would see all there is in it and come to a true and vivid understanding of its meaning. This same principle comes in to view as we find something new and interesting each time we read some old and familiar volume. Especially is this true of the Bible, of which the latest study is often the richest and most valuable.
- The process of review should commonly not be limited to the end of a particular lesson. An effective approach to review will often be spread over days and weeks, because the lapse of time tends to change the point of view of both teacher and student. Every time a review takes place, its facts rise in a new order and are seen in new relations. Truths that were overshadowed in the first study, or skimmed over due to a lack of adequate time, suddenly come forth in a new light. When one climbs a mountain, from each successive outlook the eye visits again the same landscape, but the position of the observer is always changed. The features of the landscape are seen from a different perspective, and each new view brings the climber a more comprehensive and robust picture of the object of study.
- The human mind rarely achieves its intellectual victories by a single effort. There is a sort of mental incubation that often results in the student making some splendid discovery or realization. The Creator has made the human mind capable of thinking in an unconscious state, and provided that the mind has something meaningful to contemplate, it will generally reach new viewpoints and positions each time a subject is considered. Some fresh experience or newly acquired idea is often used by the mind to unlock the key to an old lesson that was once locked in relative darkness.
- Frequent reviews are the surest way to perfect memorization and establish ready recall. Memory depends upon the frequency of contact with concepts or ideas that are linked in the mind by some past association. Each review establishes new associations, while at the same time it familiarizes and strengthens the old. The lesson that is studied but once is commonly learned only to be forgotten. That which is thoroughly and repeatedly reviewed is woven into the very fabric of our thoughts, and is much more likely to become a permanent part of our base of knowledge. The “line upon line and precept upon precept” rule contained in the Bible simply summarizes this truth. It is, after all, not what a pupil has once learned and forgotten that matters, but what he permanently remembers and uses.
- The processes of review must necessarily vary with the subject of study, and also with the age and advancement of the pupils. With very young students the review can be little more than simple repetition; with older pupils, however, their can be a thoughtful restudy of the ground to gain deeper understanding. For older students, a principle in mathematics may be reviewed with fresh applications and problems. A scientific principle may be clarified by the study or analysis of a fresh specimen. A chapter in history may be restudied with more complex questions calling for another review, or by comparing a historical perspective with new statements from another author. A Scriptural truth can be fixed more firmly by a new application of a passage to the heart and life of the student.
- Any exercise may serve as a review which recalls the material to be reviewed. One of the best and most practical forms of review is the calling up of any fact or truth learned in order to apply it to some use. The multiplication table, for example, may be learned by orderly repetitions, but its frequent review and use in daily computations alone give the student that perfect mastery which makes it come without call. Experience is, as they say, the best of all teachers.
- Do not by any means, however, limit your students review activity to mental exercises. The use of hands-on activities in review should not be neglected. Hands-on exercises, such as laboratory work, can provide a valuable form of review. It is also wise to encourage students to bring in pictures or drawings of people or places that they have learned about in their studies.
There are many reasons why children fail, and the lack of a sufficient amount of review in the learning process is not always the sole reason why learners do not succeed. A more consistent and thorough use of review, however, will often help teachers to identify ailing students while there is still time to do something to rescue them. Taking the time to review a student’s work is usually not what home school teachers like to expend effort on. More parent educators, however, need to recognize that the learning process is not complete until the last stage has been reached---- the review stage. When review is neglected, it is always at the student’s expense.
Copyright 2006 Michael J. McHugh
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